Although it has proven to be a common number for offensive linemen, the number 68 is a relatively underwhelming number in Falcons history. The number was worn by several players that had short careers in Atlanta. Some players started for a season, due to a lack of talent amongst the offensive line. Other players were strictly used in a rotation of 10 to 15 snaps. The one player that stood out was from the early 1980's. His run-blocking excellence and Pro Bowl resume makes this number not completely forgettable. Here are the players that have worn number 68 in Atlanta Falcons history.
DE/DT: Mel Agee
One of the greatest defensive linemen to come out of Illinois ended up having a respectable NFL career. Indianapolis selected him in the sixth round of the 1991 draft. After two seasons as a backup, Atlanta signed him in 1993. Agee became a rotational player through various stages of his stint with the Falcons. He never generated much pass-rushing ability, which led to him not being re-signed in 1995. His career wasn’t over, as Agee decided to play in NFL Europe for Frankfurt in 1998. Eventually, he transitioned towards playing in the AFL for Tampa Bay from 1998 to 2002. Unfortunately, retirement didn’t last long for the former Big Ten star. Agee suffered from a heart attack and died in 2008 at 39 years old.
LG/C: Calvin Collins
The versatile guard was another player that ascended above his draft status. Despite being drafted in the sixth round of the 1997 draft, Collins was an immediate starter. He struggled as a run blocker throughout his career. Jamal Anderson infamously tore into him on the field during the NFC Divisional playoff win over San Francisco. Eventually, he proved to be a serviceable lineman that can play multiple positions. After playing left guard in 1998, Collins moved to center during several games of the 1999 and 2000 season. With the franchise suffering from Anderson’s inability to stay healthy and Chris Chandler aging, a rebuilding stage had to occur.
Collins was released and signed with Minnesota in 2001. Hamstring and back injuries plagued him for the rest of his career. He wasn’t re-signed by Minnesota, which led to him failing to make the Houston Texans final roster in 2002. After unsuccessful attempts of making the final roster for Pittsburgh and Denver, Collins retired in 2004.
RT: Gabe Carimi
Similar to Adrian Clayborn, Carimi was linked with the Falcons within several mock drafts in 2011. Many fans and analysts expected Tyson Clabo to not be re-signed, due to Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl being considered as bigger priorities. Thomas Dimitroff erased those predictions by making the bold trade to draft Julio Jones. Carimi only lasted two seasons in Chicago, despite being drafted in the first round. The former Wisconsin Badger struggled extensively as a pass blocker. On an abysmal offensive line, his transgressions didn’t stand out as much as left tackle J’Marcus Webb. That still didn't help his future in Chicago.
Carimi was traded to Tampa Bay and cut after one season. Atlanta took a waiver on him to possibly play right guard or tackle. After Sam Baker and Jake Matthews went down with injuries, Carimi was forced to play right tackle once again. He was overwhelmed through committing penalties and constantly being beaten by the opposing pass rusher. To nobody’s surprise, Atlanta chose not to re-sign him and Carimi may not find another opportunity in the league.
DE: Dennis Harrison
After an impressive seven-year career in Philadelphia, Harrison signed with St. Louis in 1985. The former fourth round pick declined rapidly following his Pro Bowl-caliber season in 1981. After unsuccessful stints in St. Louis and San Francisco, Atlanta acquired him through a trade in 1986. Harrison was unable to find his pass-rushing form that made him feared in the early 1980’s. Once a pass rusher that consistently produced double-digits sacks a season, Harrison only produced two-and-half sacks in 22 games for Atlanta. His career ended in 1987 at 31 years old.
RT: John Hunter
Despite being drafted by Minnesota in the 1989 draft, Hunter was immediately traded to Atlanta. The backup tackle played three seasons there, although never evolved into becoming a NFL-caliber starting tackle. Seattle signed him in 1992 for one season. No other team gave him an opportunity following that season. Hunter has dealt with heart problems in the past, which includes nearly losing his life on three occasions. Thankfully, the former BYU star has made a remarkable recovery and continues to be open about his health through Synergy Central.
LG: Larron Jackson
Jackson was signed in 1975 following four seasons with Denver. The former fourth round pick was a serviceable left guard for a struggling team. After the 1976 season, Jackson decided to retire for unspecified reasons.
DE: Bobby Richards
The former LSU Tiger played two seasons with Atlanta. After four seasons with Philadelphia, the Falcons signed him in 1966. Due to sacks not being tracked at this time, it’s difficult to rate his overall performance. Richards’ career ended in 1967.
RG: R.C Thielemann
The greatest right guard in Falcons history finishes this list. Thielemann was a three-time Pro Bowler from 1981 to 1983. He was a key component towards opening holes for the dynamic duo of William Andrews and Gerald Riggs. During his prime, the Falcons were competing for a championship, which made him an integral part of the team. As the team started to struggle significantly in 1984, they allowed Thielemann to join a contender.
Washington acquired him in 1985 and made him an immediate starter. The former Razorback made a wise decision, as he became a Super Bowl champion in 1987. His accomplished twelve-year career finally reached the pinnacle of success. Many fans were surprised to see him play in 1988, as the decline of his play became evident. Thielemann retired after the 1988 season at 33 years old. Although he tends to be one of the more forgotten stars in Falcons history, his accomplishments surpasses all other Falcons offensive lineman.
The best Falcon of all-time couldn't be more evident. Thielemann was a three-time Pro Bowler and relied upon greatly. No other player on this list was highly regarded, let alone developing into more than a fringe starter at best.